Friendships, first words and dinky dinosaurs

Novels to inspire a new generation, and some classic picture book magic, are just some of the inspirational new reading on offer to children as the summer holidays draw near.

Thursday, 29th June 2017, 3:24 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th July 2017, 8:46 am
All the things that could go wrong
All the things that could go wrong

Age 10 plus:

All The Things That Could Go Wrong

Stewart Foster

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When your debut novel for children turned out to be a much-acclaimed award-winner, it was always going to be a hard act to follow.

But Stewart Foster, author of The Bubble Boy, a poignant story about a sick boy forced to live inside a germ-free ‘bubble,’ has passed the test with flying colours, producing a second superbly engaging and moving novel brimming with heart, hope and empathy.

The two stars are two very different boys, one struggling to cope with his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and the other his nemesis, the Year Seven class bully who takes out his anger and disappointment on the weakest and most vulnerable target.

In a perfect world, the endgame should be bad boy gets his much-deserved comeuppance for making school a daily ordeal for his tormented victim… but, as Foster so sensitively and acutely observes, life is often far more complicated than that.

Alex has severe OCD and worries about everything. His latest worry list is a long one but the first item is that he’s worried everyone is going to die, and the least is that he is worried about his worries. He could tell his mum about his worries but she will worry too, and Alex hates it when she worries about him.

His illness makes it hard for Alex to leave home in the morning and get to school on time. And even when he has washed his hands several times, he still has the problem of opening the bathroom door without getting them covered in germs again.

But what Alex really dreads every day is that when he gets to school, Dan and his gang are waiting for him…

Dan used to be doing well at school but now everything has gone wrong and he can’t control his anger. Nothing has been the same since his adored big brother Ben left so he is tagging along with class troublemaker Sophie and targeting weak little Alex, or ‘Shark Face’ as they like to call him.

So when the two boys’ mums arrange for them to meet out of school and finish building a raft called the Shooting Star, that Dan started building with his brother, it seems like the end of the world. The two enemies are going to be stuck together for the whole of the school holidays.

But strange things happen… could it actually be the start of an unlikely friendship?

There really are two sides to every story in this thought-provoking, inspirational and sometimes difficult-to-read exploration of the lives of two troubled youngsters, as Foster sets out to prove that compassion and kindness can often prove a far more powerful force than confusion and rage.

The result is a book packed full of ideas, actions, hopes, fears and people who will be recognisable to young readers everywhere. Moving, beautifully written and intensely emotional, All The Things That Could Go Wrong is a tale of our times from an exceptional author.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

A Storm of Strawberries

Jo Cotterill

Another award-winning author tackling sensitive issues is Jo Cotterill, a former actor, musician, teacher and newspaper seller who seems to be settling comfortably into her new career as a writer for children and young people.

A Storm of Strawberries, her latest warm, thoughtful and delightful novel for middle-grade readers, lets us see the world through the eyes of adorable Darby, a 12-year-old girl who has Down’s syndrome and lives on her family’s strawberry farm.

Through the funny, often confused but always refreshingly candid voice of Darby, we are given a new perspective on life and gain an understanding of what is means to be ‘different’ in a society that too often finds it difficult to accept difference.

Darby loves spring and summer time on the strawberry farm, but is the weather about to turn? Darby’s favourite things are music, chocolate, and her big sister Kaydee.

It’s nearly time for the annual Easter chocolate egg hunt, the highlight of Darby’s year, but Kaydee has brought her friend Lissa home for the weekend and Lissa, who thinks Darby is weird, doesn’t want her hanging around with them.

Suddenly both the chocolate hunt and her favourite person are in danger of slipping away... and to make things worse, the family’s strawberry farm might be hit by a tornado that is forecasted to be on the way. Darby used to get tornadoes mixed up with tomatoes but what she does know now is that they can blow out the glass from their greenhouses.

When the storm clears, what will be left? And can Darby mend what has been broken when nobody will listen to her?

Cotterill plays with our emotions as we get to know Darby and how she views the people around her, from her busy but caring mum and loving sister Kaydee to the prickly Lissa who, it turns out, has her own secret troubles to battle.

Thought-provoking, immaculately researched and with a big, warm heart, this is a story as delicate and delicious as bowl of freshly-picked strawberries.

(Piccadilly, paperback, £5.99)

Age 9 plus:

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse

Chris Riddell

Gothic fantasy for young readers doesn’t come better than this beautifully illustrated and award-winning book from artist, political cartoonist and former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell.

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse, first published in 2013, won the Costa Children's Book Award and is the first book in Riddell’s brilliantly funny and atmospheric Goth Girl series.

Now in paperback for the first time, the deliciously dark adventures of quirky Ada Goth pay homage to the outlandish adventuresome style of Alice in Wonderland and the stars of other literary classics whilst offering a more contemporary and knowing way of looking at the world.

Riddell’s charismatic black and white illustrations bring to life this funny and yet bittersweet tale, making the book a gift in every sense of the word.

When Ada Goth wakes in the middle of the night to find the disgruntled ghost of a mouse on her bedroom carpet, she is more intrigued than scared. The mouse, formally known as Ishmael, is rather cross about his ghostly predicament so Ada decides to befriend him.

In a house where it is believed that little girls should be heard and not seen, it is hard to find someone to talk to and in spite of her good nature and active imagination, poor Ada is rather lonely. Even her father, Lord Goth, will not make time for his daughter because she reminds him too much of her mother who tragically died in a tightrope accident when Ada was a baby.

But whilst exploring the vast halls and winding corridors of Ghastly-Gorm Hall, Ada, her new friends William and Emily Cabbage, and Ishmael uncover a dastardly plot hatched by Maltravers, the mysterious indoor gamekeeper, to sabotage her father’s Metaphorical Bike Race and Indoor Hunt. It’s the most anticipated event of the year and famous people from across the country are expected to attend. Can Ada and her ‘team’ foil the plot before disaster strikes?

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse is a warm, witty and outstandingly illustrated book which delivers an original, entertaining and heart-warming tale of courage, friendship and loyalty.

Ghastly-Gorm Hall – home to grumpy gamekeepers, suffering spectres, petulant poets and an unforgettably courageous heroine – is a place you won’t forget, and a story that keeps the pages turning from start to finish!

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Titania and Oberon

Illustrated by Phyllis Bray

The inspirational work of 20th century artist Phyllis Bray is brought to a new generation of children in a beautifully produced reissue of her classic illustrated celebration of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This traditional tale, originally published in 1945, is lavishly illustrated by the paintings of Bray, a member of the London Group, a prestigious artists’ collective founded by the charismatic John Cooper and which consisted of mostly working class, realist painters with little formal education.

Bray, who died in 1991, is celebrated for her murals at the People’s Palace in Mile End and was a significant talent and an integral part of the lost history of one of the major artistic movements to come out of the East End in the last century.

In Titania and Oberon, the story is told by the original author Jo Manton whose simple yet striking language proved the perfect accompaniment to Bray’s vivid, dream-like illustrations.

‘Her bed was a bank of wild thyme where oxlips and violets grew; a canopy of roses and honeysuckle hung over her head.’ Titania, the Fairy Queen, and Oberon, King of the Fairies, fall into a quarrel about who should have charge of a little changeling boy.

Oberon and his mischievous servant, Puck, cast a spell which causes Titania to fall magically in love with Nick Bottom, a local weaver who has been given the head of a donkey.

ortunately, Oberon sees the error of his ways and seeks a way to reverse the spell and restore harmony in the forest.

This beautiful new edition, which retains a seductive retro appeal, uses the original artwork, including the cover, although the original deep red has been changed to Bray’s more favoured colour of purple/blue in recognition of her unhappiness at the red chosen by her first publisher.

Bray’s distinctive style, which uses a palette of contrasting vibrant colours, is the perfect foil for the fantastical tale of Shakespeare’s fairy king and queen, Titania and Oberon, and makes this gorgeously nostalgic book an enchanting introduction to the Bard’s plays.

(Pavilion Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Darkest Dark

Chris Hadfield and The Fan Brothers

Head off into space with astronaut Chris Hadfield in a wonderfully warm and exciting picture book based on real events in his action-packed life.

The Darkest Dark is the debut picture book by Commander Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut and author of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, and was inspired by his decision to become an astronaut after watching the Apollo 11 moon landing when he was aged just nine.

Hadfield, who has orbited the Earth thousands of times now, had to overcome his fears to fulfil his childhood dream to explore space and here he uses the medium of an enthralling story to help other youngsters battle their own personal fears and follow their dreams.

Young Chris is an astronaut. In fact, he’s a very busy astronaut. Saving the planet from aliens is much more important than taking baths or going to bed because at bedtime, the worst sort of alien appears… darkness. But when Chris watches the first televised moon landing, he discovers that there is a dark out in space that is much darker than he is used to. It’s the darkest dark ever, and he realises that the unknown can be… very exciting!

With spectacular colour illustrations by top team, The Fan Brothers, this gorgeous picture book provides both reassurance and a thrilling ride through space.

Hop aboard and enjoy a trip to the stars!

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age two plus:


Claire Freedman and Carrie May

Turn bedtime into a sea of calm with a lyrical story book full of magic, dreams... and sleep!

Turn down the light and let little ones fall under the spell of the ethereal dreamweaver who travels the world over to fill her sack with dreams for sleepy creatures everywhere, even the little tiger who wants to fly through space.

This gorgeous rhyming picture book comes from much-loved author Claire Freedman, best known for her funny, frantic Aliens Love Underpants series, who moves into more peaceful waters with this mesmeric bedtime story.

‘When night shadows fall, and the moonlight gleams, The dreamweaver comes with her sack full of dreams.’ The dreamweaver collects her magical dreams from mountain tops sprinkled with snow, from glittering comet trails in the heavens and from grains of sand on distant shores. Then she weaves them together and sprinkles the dream-dust on all the sleepy baby jungle animals.

Travel with this gliding, graceful fairy through spectacular lands and places, and enjoy watching her work her magic on the baby animals as Carrie May’s amazing illustrations move from gentle pastel shades to vivid colours at the turn of a page.

The lyrical, rhyming text, with its constant refrain of quiet reassurance, and May’s bold, bewitching illustrations combine in a glorious fusion of sights and sounds and are guaranteed to soothe even the liveliest of little ones as bedtime approaches.

Warm, cuddly, and with a gentle fairy tale feel, this is the best bedtime book around. Zzzzzzzz…

(Templar Publishing, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

What the Ladybird Heard on Holiday

Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks

Crafty summertime crooks had better watch out because a very clever little ladybird is back to capture hearts, minds… and thieves!

Two of the best-known names in children’s books are on top form again in the third wonderfully entertaining What the Ladybird Heard adventure, a much-loved rhyming series that has sold over 1.5 million copies across the world.

Julia Donaldson, author of a string of bestselling children’s books including The Gruffalo, teams up again with inspirational illustrator Lydia Monks to deliver another raucous, rhyming, ribald feast of holiday mayhem, monkey business and hilarious misadventures with a cacophony of noisy zoo animals.

Throw in two familiar but feckless foes, a cameo appearance by the Queen and her corgis, an exceedingly cunning plan, and you have a holiday extravaganza that will delight both children and parents alike.

It may be the summer holidays but those two bad men, Lanky Len and Hefty Hugh, are back and even though they are in the city instead of on the farm, they haven’t changed their thieving ways. In fact, they have grown even more ambitious. They are planning to steal a monkey from the zoo and use it to get into the palace and snatch the Queen’s crown. It’s just unfortunate for them that a certain crime-busting ladybird is holidaying in the very same city… and she’s got a good idea that will ensure the dastardly pair won’t get away with it!

Youngsters will love joining in the fun, and the rhymes, as the hapless thieves meet an animal team that is more than their match.

The book comes complete with a gorgeously glittery eye-catching cover and there’s the added fun of spotting the sparkly ladybird on every page. With slapstick action, animal magic, bags of fun and a gallery of fantastic, colourful illustrations to enjoy, this year’s holidays are set to go with a real swing!

(Macmillan, hardback, £11.99)

Age two plus:


Alex and Patrick Latimer

Say hello to a wolf who is not just in sheep’s clothing… he’s actually half wolf and half sheep!

Woolf, a clever and compelling picture book, is the first collaboration between author Alex Latimer and his illustrator brother Patrick from Cape Town in South Africa and is an entertaining introduction for pre-schoolers and young children to the ideas of tolerance, diversity and being true to yourself.

When a wolf and a sheep fall in love, they have a son called Woolf who is half wolf and half woolly sheep. But Woolf soon discovers that it is not easy being different, not quite fitting in with one group or another. Is he part of the pack, or part of the flock?

When Woolf tries to impress the wolves, he finds it fun for a while, but they are a bit too wild and when he tries to follow the sheep, he finds it all a bit, well, boring. Can Woolf find his own way in life and make his own friends that like him for who he is, and not who he is trying to be?

Fortunately for Woolf, he finds new friends who accept him for what he is… there’s the fun-loving horse fly, the jolly bullfrog and a smiling catfish. And what they give to Woolf is real happiness.

Woolf is a funny, heart-warming story offering gentle but important messages, like learning that, even if some people are not willing to accept you as you are, there will always be others who appreciate your individuality.

This lovely life lesson has the feel of a traditional parable and comes wrapped up in a modern illustration style packed with humour, hope and heart.

(Pavilion Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Tiny Dinosaurs

Joel Stewart

Nobody expects to find Tyrannosaurus rex at the bottom of the garden… even if he’s just a tiny one!

Welcome to the offbeat Jurassic world of daring little adventurer Daisy, the shining star of a funny, quirky picture book from the very talented author and illustrator Joel Stewart, creator of the much-loved Tiny Cops and Robbers.

In his new classic, we meet the adorable Daisy, who just LOVES dinosaurs so much that she and her best friend, Rex the dog, are always looking out for them. And when she discovers a bunch of tiny dinosaurs cavorting around at the bottom of her garden, it’s a dream come true.

Soon Daisy is making friends and playing with the tiny T-rex, a mini stegosaurus and a titchy triceratops. But will Daisy still want to play with her best friend Rex now that she has dinosaurs to play with? Of course she will, and that’s because true friendship lasts forever.

With its charming, timeless sense adventure and beautifully detailed, expressive illustrations, this inspirational book speaks loudly and powerfully to youngsters about handling change, the fun of playtime, and the joys of making new friends, whoever they may be!

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age two plus:

Daisy Doodles

Michelle Robinson and Irene Dickson

Imagine what fun you could have if your drawings came to life!

Author Michelle Robinson and illustrator Irene Dickson are guaranteed to send young imaginations into overdrive with this enchanting picture book which combines beautiful illustrations with gorgeous photographic stills.

When Daisy doodles, something magical happens… her drawings come to life. So when she draws a little mouse named Pipsqueak, he springs to life and leads her on the most magical and creative adventure. Just as Alice followed the white rabbit into Wonderland, so Daisy follows Pipsqueak into her richly imagined world of full of magic, whether that is dragons and dragonflies, or castles and carousels.

Celebrating the imagination and encouraging creative play, Daisy Doodles is a wonderful story with a distinctively visual approach and is the ideal book for budding artists and children who like making their own games.

Dickson’s highly original and eye-catching artwork is layered with influences from children’s literature and art, from Van Gogh to Henri Rousseau, which act as the catalyst for Daisy’s creative play.

Stunning photography completes the picture and adds extra visual impact to the enchanting story as the real-life Daisy steps into a beautifully detailed and richly imagined magical fictional world.

Complete with activities to inspire parents and children, this is creative fun in motion!

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Hip and Hop: You Can do Anything

Akala and Sav Akyüz

Hip, hop, hurray… here’s a picture book to get the whole family on the move!

Hip and Hop: You Can do Anything, a wonderful rhythmic, rhyming picture book, is the first of a new series from the MOBO award-winning hip-hop artist Akala, artist, poet and founder of the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company.

Bursting with brightly coloured and vibrant artwork from acclaimed illustrator Sav Akyüz, these eye-catching, high-octane stories aim to inspire children to grow up as happy, emotionally intelligent and socially responsible human beings.

Hip, a wise hippo, and Hop, his energetic bird friend, are taking part in the Blueberry Hill bike race. Hop struggles at first, but with help from Hip, they learn that you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it. ‘Don’t let anybody tell you no. Focus on your dreams and go!’

Part prose, part rap, this book is packed full of rhyme and rhythm, making it great fun to read with young children. Akyüz’s fantastic artwork, inspired by a classic De La Soul hip hop album cover, is bursting with positivity and everyone is encouraged to follow their dreams.

All the fun and frantic action take place in an inner city world, representing a broader and more diverse set of experiences and containing positive messages about perseverance and resilience.

A fun, colourful and inspiring story that will have little ones hipping, hopping their way to success!

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age from birth:

Alison Jay’s 123 and First Words

Little ones will be counting their luck when they get their hands on two delightful board books packed with the beguiling artwork of Alison Jay.

Jay, a graduate of the London College of Printing and the critically acclaimed illustrator of many books for children, combines words and her distinctive artwork on each page to create a colourful introduction to familiar words that will appeal to both children and their parents.

With simple, bright illustrations of endearing animals and everyday objects that the very youngest children will recognise, Jay draws on nursery rhymes and fairy tales to reinforce early concepts.

In Alison Jay’s 123, youngsters join in a fairy-tale adventure, counting from one to ten as they follow the dreams of a sleeping girl, meet favourite characters from fairy tales and folk stories, and then make the journey back again.

Along the way, parents can help their little ones to count the frog princes, tot up the adorable gingerbread men and see if they can find the number of matching dwarves.

In First Words, there are more wonderful illustrations for children and grown-ups to share as each page creates an introduction to familiar words. Find the sand castle, enjoy the red kite flying over the sea and marvel at the fisherman’s hat with its row of jaunty bait round the top.

Fabulously illustrated and robust enough to withstand the onslaught of little hands, these clever books are the ideal introduction to the concept of words and counting.

(Templar Publishing, board books, £6.99 each)